Representation matters. By now, anyone with half a brain understands this. It’s nice to be able to see parts of who we are on screen, in the pages of a book, in whatever media we consume. I always enjoy learning of new (or new-to-me; I’m often behind in just about everything) Jewish fiction, because seeing characters casually discuss the same holidays I celebrate, or approaching a difficult situation with a mindset they learned from the Jewish influences in their lives just makes my heart sing. I was happy to learn about Miracles and Menorahs by Stacey Agdern (Tule Publishing Group, 2020), and even happier to find it on the shelves of my library.
Sarah Goldman is second in command on the board of her small town’s Hanukkah festival (yup, you read that right!), a tradition that’s been going on for many years, but some people in the town want changes. More red, more green, more trees…boy, is this sounding familiar. But Sarah’s determined to keep the festival all Hanukkah, and for that, she’s going to need something special, like a giant menorah (how they didn’t already have one of these already kind of baffled me…). But where could she possibly find one of those so late in the game?
Enter Isaac Lieberman, metal artist and grandson of one of the town’s most beloved members. He’s single, good-looking, talented…and 100% against any kind of commercialization of Hanukkah, so making a giant menorah for Sarah’s festival is definitely not on his list of priorities. Bummer. But as he and Sarah spend more time together and Isaac gets to know the town where his bubbe lives, he may just change his mind…about a lot of things.
This is a very sweet Hanukkah romance – there’s no more action than a few chaste kisses, so if you avoid anything hotter than a bell pepper, you’ll be okay picking up Miracles and Menorahs. It’s basically a Hallmark movie in book form.
The ups: Jewish representation. SO much rep. Most of the town is Jewish (which makes a few of the board members cranky to suddenly find their holiday in the minority; the whole situation is shades of @JewWhoHasItAll on Twitter, a great follow!), and Jewish foods and rituals are discussed without needing much explanation, which is pretty awesome. I love seeing that in books. The small town is, for the most part, incredible in the way that small towns only are in books (I’m from a small town. In reality, it’s snobbery, gossip, arrogance, bigotry, hypocrisy, and hatred with a cute downtown. It breaks my heart, really), and the bookstore where Sarah works is charming.
The downs: I wanted to like this a lot more than I did. I found the writing a bit stilted, there wasn’t nearly enough action to keep me interested, and I felt like the book could have benefitted from a stronger editor (overuse of certain words, stronger action, heavier on the drama). What drama did exist in the book felt…boring, some of it (Isaac’s mother, especially) felt overdone and a little unrealistic, and to be honest, I had a hard time finishing the book. I will say that I prefer my fiction to be written in first-person; this is written in third, and I have a harder time connecting to that, so some of my issues connecting with this book are definitely mine, because plenty of other people have enjoyed it.
Miracles and Menorahs is part of a series. I’m disappointed that I don’t feel enough of a connection to the book or the characters to continue on with the other books, but if this sounds like something you’re interested in picking up, you’re in luck that there are several books beyond this one.
Visit Stacey Agdern’s website here.